The advertised start time for the gig was 7pm, and at 8pm there was still a huge queue at the door simply to get in. Clearly the administration of rock concerts at the Scala is not bound by the same conventions as a classical concert at a mainstream venue. Inside, the down-at-heel décor is probably par for the course for most rock venues, but an investment in air conditioning would be welcome.
As for the music, well, we had some first-rate musicians in prospect. Where Serious got the idea that they were “underground” is a bit of a puzzle, but most of the audience (it was probably 95% Korean) didn’t need to read publicity materials to persuade them to come along. Judging by the reception the they gave to the two singers, most of them had come to see Kiha & the Faces. LKL has followed both acts for a while: Yi Sung Yol’s 2nd album, In Exchange, was one of our albums of the year in 2007, but his latest album released in May this year was disappointing and so we suspected in advance of the Scala gig that Jang Kiha might be the star of the show given his catchy tunes and growing following.
And as we stood in the muggy atmosphere at the back of the Scala, an unwelcome question occurred: Is Yi Sung Yol better as a recording artist than as a live performer? His immaculately crafted, slightly introverted melodies sound wonderful in the privacy of your living room, but live at Scala he didn’t really connect with the audience. In between numbers he was twiddling with his laptop rather than bantering with the punters. His remarkable voice with its huge range never really took flight. His less familiar songs were politely received, and even his old favourites failed to ignite the audience. Maybe the jetlag was affecting him – I never understand how musicians fly half way round the world one day and then are expected to be on top form the next – or he was just not feeling on top form. Either way, Yi’s set was a disappointment.
Part of the problem could have been the sound system, which made his mellow music come over as dark and muddy. But if so, that was something that was fixed before Jang Kiha came on. For even the slower, folk-style songs with which Jang started his set sounded cleaner and fresher than the sombre, murky sound that had marked Yi Sung Yol’s set.
In fact it was as if a cloud had lifted when Jang came on stage. He tried to temper the audience’s ebullience by stressing how sad his initial songs were, but still they were received with a deal of enthusiasm. And as the tempo picked up in the later songs the temperature raised still further.
Sadly, I had to leave just as the evening was really taking off. If there had been a bit of air conditioning, maybe I might have been persuaded to stay a bit longer, but I was glad to have had the chance to hear two of Korea’s leading indie acts live. I’ll continue to listen to my Yi Sung Yol CDs with pleasure, and I now realise that I have been seriously delinquent in not already having added Jang Kiha’s second CD to the first I already have. It was definitely Jang which was the star of the Scala’s show.
But what a shame that Kimchi Cult was not included in the initial PR for the event. While waiting for the Scala queue to die down I’d already over-filled my belly with a substandard burger at a nearby Turkish café. Had I known that the Kimchi Chariot was going to be serving Kimchi Burgers at the Scala I would have saved some room.